To kick off the blackroom and just
generally introduce myself, I thought it would be a good idea to give my perspective on
the beginnings of 2-tone in Coventry and a brief history of The Selecter.
1999 sees the 20th anniversary of the 2-Tone Movement,
which spearheaded the introduction of the infectious ska beat into the
British pop charts and paved the way for all multi-cultural bands since.
I was lucky enough to have been living in Coventry at the time.
Coventry is, and always will be, the home of 2-tone. Much has been written about why it
happened here; mostly wordy sociological theses about the concrete jungle of
inner city areas and the loss of the massive Midlands motor industry in
All of this is true; Coventry was a motown in decline when The Specials
and The Selecter were packing audiences in at the Locarno
in town (now Coventry City Library)!
The members of both bands had lived in Coventry for years, so we all knew about what
was going on. This probably helped to make so many of those songs truthful and memorable
to the thousands of other young people all over the country who were experiencing mass
unemployment for the first time.
The 2 Tone Story of The Selecter
The Selecter began life in 1977, with a song written and performed by Neol
Davies (guitar) and John Prince Rimshot Bradbury
(drums) and ably assisted by Barry Jones (then my local sweet-shop
owner), on a truly glorious trombone solo.
This song was called The Selecter, a mournful ska/rocksteady track,
which harked back to the Jamaican ska style of the sixties. This track had to wait on the
shelf until 1979, when The Specials needed a b-side for their
debut single, Gangsters. Gerry Dammers, originator of
all things 2-tone, decided that The Selecter would be ideal.
Neol Davies then thought it would be a good idea to form a band around the 2-tone idea
pioneered by The Specials, but was unsure who to invite to join him. Members of local
reggae band Hardtop 22, which was led by the dreadlocked and charismatic Charley
Anderson, were interested in lending their services.
At that time, I was trying to form a band with Desmond Brown, H
and Lawton Brown and while we were rehearsing one evening up at The
Wheatsheaf on Foleshill Road, Lynval Golding of The Specials
turned up to listen. He must have liked what he heard, because I was invited round to
Charley Andersons house in Hillfields, to meet Neol Davies.
Neol cut a very cool appearance in those days, mainly because he had a piece of vinyl
with a song that he had written on it, which was roaring up the charts at the time. The
Selecter was formed on that summer evening of 1979.
The original band members were Neol Davies (lead guitar), Compton
Amanor (rhythm guitar), Desmond Brown (keyboards), Charley
Anderson (bass), Charles H Bembridge (drums), Arthur
Gaps Hendrickson (vocals) and me, Pauline Black,
(also on vocals).
Frantic rehearsals were started at the Golden Cup (among numerous
other pubs in Coventry), songs were written or changed to fit a ska style and within a few
weeks we did our first gig in Gloucester. That evening was not an auspicious event,
because we were all over the place, the sound system was appalling and we all needed some
A few more weeks went by, while we continued rehearsals and got our clothes in order,
before we did our first proper gig, supporting The Specials at a now defunct
club in Leeds, called The F Club. That gig always sticks in my memory,
because the audience were up for the new sounds of The Selecter and we could feel
something was really going to happen. Elvis Costello was hanging out at
the bar and The Specials tore the place down that night.
Numerous other gigs, up and down the country, followed and we steadily built up a big
audience. Our debut London gig was on 21 July 1979 at the Electric Ballroom.
If youd been there that night, then you could have seen us, The Specials,
Madness and The Bodysnatchers all for the princely sum
of £3. It was filled to capacity and it was so hot that the sweat was dripping off the
By this time The Specialss 2-tone label was up and running and
they offered us a deal to record our first single. The sum involved for the recording of
three tracks was £1000. Out of that session came our first single, On My Radio/Too
Much Pressure, which went Top Ten in November 1979.
A massive sell-out 2-Tone Tour of Britain was next on the agenda,
before recording our first album Too Much Pressure, at the now sadly
demolished Horizon Studios in Coventry. In hindsight, this album was
definitely the musical autobiography of The Selecter.
By mid 1980, the 2-Tone movement, as it was now called, had reached its height. All of
the bands who were, or had been connected with the label - The Selecter,
The Specials, The Beat, Madness - had
top 10 singles, sold out gigs and had a fanatical following.
The cult film Dance Craze highlights only too well how crazy things
had become. We had achieved in a few short months what most bands take years to do. Things
were happening way too fast and it was all becoming uncontrollable.
Our sudden success story, having to deal with constant touring schedules, clashes with
racist fans, record company hassles from Chrysalis (who licensed the
2-tone label) and violence at the gigs. We managed to wade our way through the confusion
Meanwhile Too Much Pressure went gold, we sold out tours in Britain
and Europe and had our first taste of the USA, during a hectic coast to
coast two month tour in April 1980. But when we got back home the cracks had started to
appear in 2-Tone. Gerry Dammers wanted to disband the label while it was
still on top, because he thought it had become a monster. The Selecter decided to broaden
its horizons. The difficult second album, still had to be recorded, so we left 2-tone in
For us, it was the beginning of the end for The Selecter and 2-tone.
Despite the themes of harmony and unity that filled our songs, we found it difficult to
live that reality in the band. Desmond Brown and Charley Anderson
left amid acrimonious scenes at Horizon Studios. They were replaced with James
Mackie (keyboards) and Adam Williams (bass). This new line-up
went into the studio to record the new second album, Celebrate The Bullet.
The title track
Celebrate the Bullet is still my favourite song. But unfortunately due to
bad timing on release Radio One banned it because a gunman had just shot
Ronald Reagan and John Lennon had also recently been assassinated. Without airplay the
album was doomed.
Despite a hard touring schedule, fans were becoming disinterested
in 2-tone. Bands like Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran
were now the national past-time and I decided that this new emerging scene had nothing to
do with me or the music that I liked and I left The Selecter. Neol
Davies valiantly carried the flag for a while longer, but finally realised it was
time to call it a day.